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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Never Go Back

Lee Child

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To purchase Never Go Back

Title: Never Go Back
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 512 pages
Availability: Never Go Back - US
Never Go Back - UK
Never Go Back - Canada
Retour interdit - France
Die Gejagten - Deutschland
Punto di non ritorno - Italia
Nunca vuelvas atrás - España
  • The eighteenth Jack Reacher novel
  • Never Go Back was made into a film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, in 2016, directed by Edward Zwick and starring, absurdly, Tom Cruise, and Cobie Smulders

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit basic, but consistently entertaining adventure

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chicago Tribune B 6/9/2013 Michael Robbin
The NY Times A- 29/8/2013 Janet Maslin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Never Go Back isn't one of Child's stronger contributions to the kick-butt/take-names genre. The formula is only as good as its ingredients, and this time around the conspiracy of Powerful Men Who Will Stop at Nothing to Protect Their Revenue Stream is more contrived than usual. The sex is shot in cheesy soft-focus. The is-she-his-daughter subplot relies on red-herring coincidences. (...) And the denouement -- well, the action ends with a bang (two, in fact) that sounds like a whimper. This isn't to say I didn't swig Never Go Back like a kid with a cherry cola on opening day." - Michael Robbin, Chicago Tribune

  • "Never Go Back, may be the best desert island reading in the series. It's exceptionally well plotted. And full of wild surprises. And wise about Reacher's peculiar nature. And positively Bunyanesque in its admiring contributions to Reacher lore. (...) Mr. Child creates a breathless cross-country spree for his runaways. And, as usual, he treats a journey as a series of problems to be solved. But the problems are impressively daunting (.....) For Reacher-like sticklers, a few small points of Never Go Back can be nitpicked. (...) His spatial geometry is brilliant: it will come in superhandy for anyone ever wanting to break the bones of a fellow airplane passenger in absolute secrecy. But his calculations of probability are less clever" - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Never Go Back has Jack Reacher returning to his old command, the Virginia headquarters of the 110th MP Special Unit -- "the closest thing to a home base Reacher had ever had". Not a sentimental guy, Reacher should know better -- 'Never go back' is good advice -- but the pull here is of a different kind: in 61 Hours he connected, long distance, with the Major who is now CO of the 110th -- his old position --, Susan Turner. They took to each other, and a curious Reacher has decided he wants to meet her in person; it took a while and a few adventures along the way -- chronicled in Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man -- but at the start of Never Go Back Reacher has reached his destination -- if not his goal. He makes it to the 110th HQ, but finds someone else occupying his old office: a Colonel Morgan.
       Turner has been relieved of her command, and Morgan has been installed in her place, despite his (low for the position) rank; he explains: "I'm a trouble-shooter. I get sent in to clean up the mess". And apparently there is a mess. There's initially no clear explanation what happened to Turner, but Reacher still has his rank, his reputation -- he's a legend at the 110th --, and his very confident manner, and that helps him pick up and piece together information. A Sergeant Leach is able to connect the obvious dot for Reacher: "the guardhouse at Fort Dyer has a new prisoner". Apparently, Turner stands accused of taking a hefty bribe.
       Much to his surprise, Reacher finds he suddenly has his own legal problems, too: Morgan tells him he is being investigated in a homicide from sixteen years earlier, and that there's another case pending against him, regarding events from similarly far past. Morgan also reveals to Reacher that when Reacher left the army many years earlier he didn't do so entirely; he committed himself to being a reservist. And reservists can be recalled to active duty. And that's what Morgan does, recall Reacher -- ostensibly to make sure he sticks around and goes through the legal process. So Reacher is back in the army. (Being in the army actually turns out to have some benefits, as far as sniffing around goes: Reacher is a major, and a major is a big deal -- still bigger than Morgan, for example -- and Reacher has no problem throwing his considerable weight around.)
       All this is very suspicious: Turner, suddenly relieved from her command; Reacher suddenly with not one but two serious legal investigations hanging over him, one of which could land him in the brig for a very long time. The obvious thing for Reacher to do would simply be to hightail it out of there, and return to the life he's been leading for years, on the road. The military is interested in him, but only because he's served himself up on a platter to them, walking into their laps, and it would look bad if they didn't at least go through the motions. But if he simply vanished, as he more or less has before, they wouldn't expend too much effort tracking him down.
       And, in fact, it's this suggestion that he disappear that the novel opens with, a scene at the motel where Morgan installs Reacher after their little conversation where two NCOs show up shortly after he's been dropped off and try to intimidate him into leaving, for his own good. They talk tough -- "Every night we find you still here, we're going to kick your ass" -- but apparently the dossier they got on Reacher didn't really do him justice. Naturally, he teaches them a lesson -- hey, there are just two of them, easy pickings for a man with Reacher's skills --, including denting their car, and sends them on their way.
       The two NCOs are not entirely wrong with their suggestion. Everything speaks for Reacher making a run for it. But Reacher isn't the kind of guy who runs: he confronts things head on. He knows something doesn't smell right here -- including his own (in)convenient legal troubles: it sure looks like someone wants him out of the way, by prodding him just enough and in the right way to vanish -- and there's no way he's going to let this go. So he dives in, in his own inimitable way.
       He sniffs around as to what might have gotten Turner into trouble, and when he hears that two of her men currently in Afghanistan haven't reported in as scheduled he figures that's worth looking into -- while the man ostensibly in charge of the 110th doesn't seem particularly eager to check that situation out. Unsurprisingly, there's a connection with Turner's problems.
       It turns out being in legal trouble has its advantages, too. Reacher is assigned a lawyer for each of the cases hanging over him, and his lawyers are able to request information for his defense which might otherwise be hard to come by. Still, Reacher has a difficult time getting in touch with incarcerated Turner. But soon enough he's locked up too, with yet another charge against him -- a local police matter, this time, but serious, too.
       Of course, Reacher takes advantage of the situation to spring himself and Turner -- and go on the run with her. Their destination is California, where Reacher has to check out the other pending legal matter -- which might be a personal one, too.
       So most of Never Go Back is then a kind of cat-and-mouse chase. What makes it a cut above most is Child's approach. There are several cats, beginning with the two NCOs who wanted to rough up Reacher at the get-go, who double in number to a four-man team -- who are, on the one hand, very well informed about almost every move Reacher and Turner are making ("There's no information they can't get", Reacher and Turner soon realize) but who are not quite up to facing Reacher down.
       Reacher and Turner try to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers -- but only half: they want to keep close, because they want to get to the bottom of things and they need to know the connections. There are amusing little adventures as to the creative ATMs Reacher and Turner find in order to bankroll their travels, including eventually living quite high off the hog on the credit cards of their pursuers -- even, or especially, since the clearly very well-connected puppet-masters behind the men on the ground are able to follow ever electronic paper trail in almost real time.
       Reacher and Turner get up close and personal with several characters who mean them ill along the way, and part of the fun is in how Reacher deals with these situations. Often, he's willing to give those bent on harming him an out -- though the fools rarely opt for the painless version --, while some of the confrontations occur in unlikely places. Guns are thankfully almost always out of reach -- and one fatal shooting basically happens off-scene, one of the more disappointing confrontations -- and among the highlights are Reacher engaging with two of their pursuers on a transcontinental flight. One early fight is rather over the top -- look, ma, no hands ... -- but on the whole Child doses the confrontations very well; no wild shoot-outs, and no having to take out a dozen opponents in a single fight; less can be more, and Child's restraint here -- down to the denouement -- pays off.
       The premise behind Reacher heading for California is a bit of a stretch, but Child also handles that well. It's clear to everyone that Reacher is headed there, and so the cat and mouse games play out pretty nicely -- not least because Reacher and Turner have to try to balance being half a step ahead and trying to piece together information that would help clear things up. This whole part of the novel could also have become a sappy mess, but Child handles that really well, too, pulling away at the right time and in the right way.
       Reacher with a love interest isn't that unusual, but Turner has already been built up some from her earlier appearances. The two make a good team -- but there's also the typical Reacher-mystique, of who he is and how he leads his life. Turner can't help but see him as a bit feral -- summing up then:

It's like you've been sanded down to nothing but yes and no, and you and them, and black and white, and live or die.
       To hammer home the point, Child has Reacher repeatedly get all probabilistic, constantly faced with (and occasionally presenting) fifty-fifty (more or less) choices. It's a bit tiresome, but does fit the image, and many of the situations, well enough.
       Along the way, there are brief glimpses of the puppet-masters behind this elaborate conspiracy, in their conversations about the goings-on. Calling themselves Romeo and Juliet, they are very much on top of things -- astonishingly well-informed -- but realize that theirs is a house of cards with shaky foundations. Reacher not disappearing when he has the opportunity to certainly threw a wrench in their works, while most of the four-man team they send after Reacher and Turner is anything but up to the job. Romeo and Juliet's story -- what they're trying to cover up -- isn't all that impressive, but readers might appreciate that this isn't all end-of-the-world overblown and that even the would-be final confrontation mostly just finds Reacher and Turner staking out and watching.
       There are some awkward bits to the plot, and some far-fetched odds and ends, but on the whole Never Go Back is one of the better Reacher novels, with genuine excitement to the chase(s) and a neat back and forth in coming to the various confrontations -- with very little coming out of the blue, a nice touch. Child struggles some in making the personal relationship between Reacher and Turner something passionate -- but since readers know where the relationship is headed (come on, you know Reacher is hitting the road again, as soon as the dust begins to settle ...) that doesn't become too awkward. With the supportive crew of lawyers and other military personnel, the pieces of Never Go Back slowly, neatly fall into place, everything moving along at a nice, steady clip.
       All in all, its a bit basic and occasionally silly, but thoroughly enjoyable and with few lapses of any kind. Ideal snow- or beach-day reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 December 2020

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Never Go Back: Reviews: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - the movie: Lee Child: Other books by Lee Child under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Lee Child was born in 1954.

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